This post is part of Blogging Abroad’s 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week three: Cultural Differences
Picture, if you will, the following scenario: You’re a young woman going to work in a Panamanian elementary school for the first time. Within the first week you’ve been asked by two different teachers why you don’t like makeup. Flash forward: You’re working with a group of fellow PCV’s giving a seminar for a university class. The seminar began at 2 and it’s now almost 4—no one has showed up.
Does this all seem a little strange to you? Trust me, I get it. But let’s see what happens a little further down the road; now you’re that same young woman but today you’re wearing heels and the reddest lipstick you own. You’ve never gotten so many compliments from the teachers at your school! You head to the second meeting of your community English class and only one person shows up 10 minutes late. Success!
Being a professional in Panama can seem a little confusing at first but you can manage it if you’re open and honest with the people around you and with yourself. To get started try this handy guide:
- Go heavy on the makeup (if you’re a lady). Blue eyeshadow is completely professional as long as it matches your clothes. By wearing more makeup you show that you put time and effort into your appearance which is really appreciated in the workplace. I’ve still kept my brown eyeshadows but I’ve stepped up my lipstick game.
- Along with number one—dress up. Heels for women, ties for men. Keep your hair looking nice (sorry boys but no long hair allowed) and shower every morning before going to work. Effort is everything!
- If you expect people to meet at a certain time tell them in person and keep following up via text. It’s not unusual for people to show up late for meetings here but it’s important to be flexible and understanding when it happens.
- Email isn’t very popular here so most things are presented through formal letters. If you want to ask for something or even just introduce yourself to the school principle you want to type, print, sign, and take in a letter. It’s professional and courteous. Plus something about a letter makes the whole thing feel more personal—you get the added interaction of handing it to another human being!
- Form a personal relationship with your co-workers. If you want someone to work with you then you need to ask them about their life and their family. Interpersonal relationships form strong teams and make everyone feel more invested in each other’s success!
Do you see a pattern here? Panama is all about connecting with people and making your best effort. It’s about putting people first and working together to reach your goals. And hey, a little lipstick never hurt anyone.